It is now forty years since the publication, in June 1978, of the book by Abilio Barbero de Aguilera and Marcelo Vigil, La formación del feudalismo en la Península Ibérica (The rise of feudalism in the Iberian Peninsula), (Barcelona, 1979), which, as a continuation and culmination of their previous works, marked a turning point in the historiographical study of the social foundations of Spain in the Middle Ages. One of the documents that these two historians used to prove their thesis was an acknowledgement or declaration made in 913 by about five hundred inhabitants of the Sant Joan valley to the Abbess Emma that the homes, vegetable gardens and lands they cultivated were owned in name of the abbess and her monastery.
Wilfred I, Count of Barcelona (c. 840-897), having conquered the Ter valley, repopulated it by founding the monastery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses, whose church was consecrated in the year 887. He endowed it with generosity so it could be ruled by his daughter Emma, who was its first abbess. It soon became one of the great centres of monastic life in Catalonia during the era of the Counts. Its land and assets grew very quickly, in part as the result of several judicis, five of which we know took place during Emma’s lifetime. The judicis were official acts of acknowledgement of the properties or of certain rights granted by those occupying those properties or enjoying those rights. One of these took place back in the 904, and three more in 913, including the one described here. Due to the importance of the characters involved, the large number of people who participated, the geography involved and the legal nature of the act, this juidici of 913 has been well documented by historiography for a century.
The act was presided over by the counts Miró (of Cerdanya and Besalú) and Sunyer (of Barcelona), together with the viscounts Ermemir (of Barcelona) and Unifred (of Girona), as well as other clerical and lay judges. In the presence of these, Hictor, representative of the abbess Emma and the monastery of Sant Joan, called upon the inhabitants of the towns and villages (villae) of the upper Ter valley. Distributed according to the villae where they resided, these inhabitants claimed to own the aforementioned villae (with their homes, vegetable gardens, vineyards, cultivated and uncultivated lands, mills, and trees) in the name of the abbess Emma and the nuns of her monastery; and the inhabitants also declared that they occupied the villae thanks to them and for them, with the duty to serve them and their successors. This was done this way, according to the document, because when Count Wilfred took possession of the Ter valley and built the monastery, these inhabitants settled in the valley thanks to the abbess, building homes, planting vegetable gardens and vineyards and turning the uncultivated lands into farmland. The document includes four hundred and eighty-six signatures of the inhabitants of the valley. According to Joan Ferrer i Godoy, there is no other medieval document that contains such a long list of names, which has led to several hypotheses about the repopulation flows initiated by Count Wilfred in the late 9th century (mostly of Gothic rather than Germanic or Frankish origin according to the names). Thanks to the long list of names, which Antoni Badia i Margarit meticulously analysed, this document is especially important for the study of Catalan onomastics and toponymy. But it also constitutes key evidence of the process of consolidation of the sociopolitical transformations and changes that had begun with the territorial organization promoted by Count Wilfred the Hairy, common throughout the whole of Latin Europe in the Early Middle Ages.
Abilio Barbero and Marcelo Vigil used this masterfully to illustrate the rise of feudalism in the northern region of the Iberian Peninsula, based on the disintegration of primitive village communities, as more or less evolved gentilic organizations, in which women played a prominent role, as evidenced by the importance of matrilineal lineage. This was the case of the Hispani, as they were known in the capitularies of the time of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald, in the 8th-9th centuries. The primitive form used by these peasant communities was the aprisio, or occupation of a land without an owner for its exploitation. However, this collective ownership of the land by a group of peasant soldiers united by blood ties and led by chiefs or maiores of their own lineage was doomed to extinction. In some cases, collective aprisiones (occupation, appropriation and cultivation of virgin land) were transformed into a single large property belonging to a single member of the original lineage, a descendant of the maiores and with ties of personal dependence and fidelity to the Frankish kings, the nominal sovereigns of the territory, while the rest of the community was reduced to the level of dependent peasants. The whole property was protected by Gothic law or application of the Liber Iudiciorum (Visigothic Code), contravening the customary local law which governed the Hispani or pagenses (peasants). The maiores of the Hispani, upon becoming sole owners of the old aprisio, invoked the thirty-year statute of limitations for immovable property contained in the Liber Iudiciorum, one of whose laws also mandated that no thing possessed by another could be seized without a trial. Gothic law, as maintained by the ruling class of Septimania and the Marca Hispanica after the annexation of these regions to the Frankish kingdom, was the legal expression of a feudal social order of large domains with a dependent peasantry, similar to that existing in other territories of the Carolingian Empire.
Despite this, these peasant communities were still important in the eastern Pyrenees, though finally, like the Hispani communities a hundred years earlier, they came under the control of large feudal domains. One of the methods used to submit primitive village communities to the feudal dependence of a great lord or monastic establishment was the one used in Sant Joan de les Abadesses in the year 913. The act was executed through this judicial declaration, carried out on 15 June 913, before the comites and marchiones Miró and Sunyer, brothers of the abbess Emma, all of whom were Count Wilfred’s children, and also in the presence of viscounts, clerics, representatives of good standing and the executioner. The villages that came to depend on the monastery are listed with the names of the men and women who lived there. According to Barbero and Vigil, it is significant that in some cases the name of the villa or villare coincides with that of the inhabitant designated in the first place (as in the cases of Scluvane, whose first inhabitant is Scluva, and others). In the opinion of these authors, this arrangement of the names and their distribution by villages, without distinguishing between men and women, suggests that they were related groups whose heads appear in the document. This highlights the character of women in this area of matriarchal or matrilineal lineage, as individuals with rights, making endowments and property transfers.
This document comes from the Sant Joan de les Abadesses monastery archive, which was incorporated into the Archives of the Crown of Aragon relatively late on and in well-known circumstances. These involve the secularization of the Augustinian canons of Catalonia, including that of Sant Joan, decreed by Pope Clement VIII in 1592, allocating their income to the so-called five royal dignities created in the cathedrals of Vic, Barcelona and Girona. There was then a dispute over the possession of the documents between the canons of Sant Joan and the Archdeacon or "ardiaca" of Badalona, one of the five royal dignities, which led to a long lawsuit before the Royal Court of Barcelona, which in 1610 ordered the documents to be filed in the Royal Archive, as the Archives of the Crown of Aragon was then known, in a separate cabinet so that both parties could access them.
The scrolls, books and files of Sant Joan that were stored in the Archives of the Crown of Aragon therefore took up a cabinet that was added to those that already existed, with the number 32 and the title of Sant Joan de les Abadesses. According to an inventory from the mid-18th century, this cabinet contained 1,343 documents. But then, following the prevailing criteria at the time, the system of cabinets and bags stored by subject matter which had been used in the organization of the Royal Archive since the 14th century was dismantled, the scrolls were separated, and these were reorganized by reigns, following a strict chronological order, regardless of their origin, an operation that was completed by the archivist Próspero de Bofarull in the first decades of the 19th century. The scroll with the acknowledgment to the abbess Emma of 913 was signed "Royal Chancery, Scrolls of Miró, no. 3", which is how it is marked to this day.
As a source for the publication of this document, including the notes, we have used the one published by the director of the Archive of the Crown of Aragon between 1961 and 1982, Dr Federico UDINA MARTORELL, El archivo condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X. Estudio crítico de sus fondos (Archives of the County of Barcelona in the 9th-10th centuries. Critical study of its collections), Barcelona, 1951, doc. 38, p 157-165.
The fragment translated into Spanish is indicated in bold.
ACA, Cancillería, Pergaminos, Mirón, 3